Eligibility for naturalization as a U.S. citizen requires most applicants to meet separate continuous residence and physical presence requirements. Applicants often misunderstand these closely related but unique criteria. Although they are similar, the continuous residence requirement and physical presence requirement are different.
Continuous Residence Requirement for Naturalization
Continuous residence means that the applicant has maintained residence within the United States for a specified period of time. Before naturalizing, an applicant must have:
- Resided continuously in the U.S. for five years before applying, or
- Resided continuously in the U.S. for three years in the case of qualified spouses of U.S. citizens
Generally, this means that you have lived in the United States for the specified number of years without leaving the country for trips of six months or longer. Trips of six months or more can disrupt the continuous residence requirement. Immigration law provides exceptions for individuals working abroad in an official capacity for the U.S., such as the U.S. Armed Forces. Get examples and learn more about continuous residence.
Physical Presence Requirement for Naturalization
Physical presence refers to the number of days the applicant must physically be present in the United States during the statutory period up to the date of filing for naturalization. The continuous residence and physical presence requirements are interrelated but each must be satisfied for naturalization. Applicants are required to show that they were:
- Physically present in the U.S. for thirty months within the five year period before applying, or
- Physically present in the U.S. for eighteen months within the three year period before applying in the case of qualified spouses of U.S. citizens
Physical presence is a cumulative requirement; that means that each day outside the United States gets added to the total. As mentioned, these requirements are completely waived if the applicant is applying as a military applicant. However, if the applicant is applying, for example, as a 5-year permanent residence, any service time out of the country does not break the continuous residence and physical presence. It is treated just like time spent in the United States. Get examples and learn more about physical presence.